Parents across New Jersey are once again hearing about suspected child predators who used social media as their trolling grounds for victims.

An animal control officer from Princeton was arrested Monday in Pennsylvania after authorities say he raped a boy he had met on Snapchat. A Deptford man, meanwhile, admitted in federal court this week that he used Facebook to trick children into sending him sexually explicit pictures of themselves.

State Police Lt. John Pizzuro, the commander of the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, says cases like this are but the latest reminder that parents must be vigilant when it comes to their kids.

“This is happening on a daily basis in all different mediums, in all different chat rooms, and the predators are out there, so you have to be mindful of where your children are online," he said.

“When your children are in a closed room online, it’s not really a good idea. Open dialogue is always the best.”

He pointed out kids may not understand the risks of getting involved in an online relationship with a complete stranger who could be an adult predator.

“Especially in the 13-14-year-old age bracket, they’re not thinking about the dangers, necessarily. They’re thinking that the other person on the other end of that chat room is in their age group.”

He said predators know exactly where to go online to meet potential victims, and “conversations sometimes take days and months, and even years before an actual meet up occurs."

"What the individuals do is they gain the kids' trust. A lot of times, especially among younger kids, they don’t believe the person they’re chatting with poses any potential danger to them.”

So what should parents do?

Parents must open a dialogue with their kids about potential online dangers and also find out what sites they’re going to, he says.

Pizzuro recommends netsmartz.org for parents interested in learning about what’s happening online.

Kids are going to new social media sites all the time, with predators following close behind, so parents need to get educated.

“Some of those sites where there’s a lot of chatting going on, you have to understand why they’re doing that or what the purpose is,” he said.

“The reality is there’s predators every day looking for children, and until parents and children alike are mindful of that fact that there are dangers out there, it’s not going to stop.”

 

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